Know Thyself: A Context For The 4th Step

“The long journey’s destination is to be found the very spot we embarked from.” (1)

“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory.”

We should immediately point to the elephant in the room. Well, the perceived elephant because after evaluation it turns out to be but a speck of dust. We are discussing morality. Morality is nothing more than a value judgment. Try operating in any conceivable fashion without making value judgments. It’s not possible. It’s not even conceivable!

We are constantly discerning the best course of action for ourselves. Sure, it’s debatable what is the “best” but that debate, of value theory, will forever go on.

First, we want to identify precisely what the best means, or more accurately, what is deemed the right value judgment i.e. God’s will. We then want to impose that standard on to our own lives (thoughts and behaviors) in an attempt to rectify where shortcomings exist. A shortcoming, defect of character, exact nature of our wrongs, can all be used interchangeably. They merely identify mental patterns or behaviors which have deviated from the standard.

*It should be noted that this gives us a clearer definition of accountability. It refers to an individual who assists another individual back to the standard*

What Is The Standard: Natural Law

I’ve previously discussed the concept of natural law. Whether you agree with it or not is somewhat irrelevant to the system presented by Alcoholics Anonymous, but of course, it is always recommended you pursue your own argument and arrive at your own conclusions. One will simply not agree with everything, however, it becomes our responsibility to cogently state what we do believe even if it is contrary to the system presented. It would be wise to understand the motive and system behind our convictions.

I mentioned elsewhere how Aristotle posited a natural law of sorts, one that transcended time, cultural conventions, and governments. He referred to it as a common law, that is all mankind shares this moral intuition of what is correct – they have this in common regardless of their differences, in this way, it is a “higher law.” He further declared that the origins of which could be identified in nature.

“The Stoics pointed to the existence of a rational and purposeful order to the universe. The means by which a rational being lived in accordance with this cosmic order was considered natural law. Unlike Aristotle’s ‘higher law,’ Stoic natural law was indifferent to the divine or natural source of that law.”(2)

The Christian theologians subscribed to natural law, in a similar fashion, of course, this is only understood when the noetic effects (adverse mental side effects) of sin are lifted and true knowledge is no longer suppressed (sin suppressed apprehension of truth). Therefore, to the Christian, one must be saved (salvation by what is Truth) and conjoined in Christ, who “torn the veil” which separated people from the truth, who himself was truth, so that this natural law could not only be witnessed but, by his grace, lived out. Therefore, humanity didn’t pursue truth; to the contrary, truth pursued humanity. An interesting idea for sure.

The Big Book took a more liberal approach to natural law. They removed the dogma and the specifics of Christianity but retained various elements (a very common practice in the early twentieth century). They elevated experience with God, which they refer to as a Higher Power, as a relationship with the truth, which could, in turn, endow them not only with the knowledge of the Higher Law but with the power to carry it out. In this respect, it borrowed quite a bit of capital from Christianity.

So, as much as A.A. tries to maintain the idea of the disease model and liken the solution to a prescription, one cannot deny the very moral foundations of that prescription. Which is a momentous deviation from the modern definition of diagnosis and disease. One cannot miss the vestiges of the sin concept of Christianity – it’s just evolved in a social disease of sorts which expresses itself as a disconnect between God and, consequently, the moral thread which connects or disconnects us all. A slight modification does exist, when A.A. refers to natural law it uses the term God’s Will. Conversely, for an individual disregarding natural law they refer to it as Self-Will. God’s Will is the natural law, the moral order. Self-Will is the abandonment of natural law, and a total disregard for moral order expect when it is convenient and in the best interest of the self.

What Is This Nebulous Will Of God?

If this sounds very repetitious thus far, that was my intention. As addiction is created through repetition and reward, in like manner recovery is thus created. So if I repeat, it’s for emphasis and to drive the point home.

If this natural law is to exist it most certainly must be in accord with human nature – another concept, mind you, which is just as nebulous. So, what then is the essence of humanity per the Big Book? This essence will be the determinative factor in precisely what it means to “do what is right.” Alas, we arrive full circle. How do we know what is the proper value judgment?

I’ll give three reasons which, I believe best represents the morality of the Big Book. I will also discuss the primary difference of A.A., which is that it purports a universal being who is rational, personal, and relational. This is also borrowed from Christian theology, which helps distinguish the essence of humanity – for we, too, are rational, personal, and relational.


Humanity has the ability to reason. If you doubt this, you do so using reason and refute yourself. You must give reasons for your argument that humanity does not use reasons, it’s nonsensical. Thus, we use reason. However, what do we use it for? What dictates it? I believe virtue does. Or, for a more contemporary term, morality. We employ reason as governed by our value judgments. So what determines our values. The fact that we are personal. Impersonal objects have no reason for virtue by the very fact of their inability to quantify value.


This is another one of those things that cannot really be doubted. Sure, an individual can act impersonal, like an inanimate object, but ultimately we term this pretend by the very fact we are animate objects. Further, being animate we are also self-conscious of this fact. We term this self-conscious aspect of our consciousness the self. Philosophers have tried to deny the existence of the self but it seems counter-intuitive. It appears to deny the collective consensus of humanity. Further, this self is a personality rife with emotions and beliefs, best understood in relation to its interpersonal context, or it’s culture. Therefore, humanity is also relational.


We understand ourselves in relation to others. Our ideals, ambitions, and purposes are in strict sense defined by our interpersonal relationships. Timothy Keller touches upon this truth in his book “Prayer,”

“C. S. Lewis argues that it takes a community of people to get to know an individual person. Reflecting on his own friendships, he observed that some aspects of one of his friend’s personality were brought out only through interaction with a second friend. That meant if he lost the second friend, he lost the part of his first friend that was otherwise invisible. “By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.” (3)

It’s stands to reason than to know yourself requires a network of individuals. Moreover, the collective string together a web of meaning in which the self is anchored. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, as water is to a fish so the community is to a man.

How Does Human Nature Imply A Natural Law?

Natural Law is merely living in accord with one’s nature. If I may, I’d like to present a dialogue from the kid’s movie Kung Foo Panda, which summarizes my point. It’s an exchange between Master Oogway and Master Shifu.

Oogway: Look at this tree, Shifu. (Indicates the Peach Tree of Heavenly Wisdom) I cannot make it blossom when it suits me, nor make it bear fruit before its time.

Shifu: But there are things we can control! (Slams a fist into the tree, making several peaches fall around them) I can control where the fruit will fall! (Catches a peach, cuts it in half, takes the pit and slams it into the ground) And I can control where to plant the seed! That is no illusion, Master!

Oogway: Ah, yes. But no matter what you do, that seed will grow to be a peach tree. You may wish for an apple or an orange, but you will get a peach.

It would be the height of folly to expect a peach tree to produce an apple or an orange. That would be a trespass against natural law, for each produces according to its kind. Now, imagine the peach tree was self-conscious. However, after years of trying to produce apples, it grew bitter. It began to blame other trees for its inability. Eventually, when the blame never paid any real dividends, self-hatred began to blossom. Why? Because it could not live per its nature, in short, it desired to be what it was not. The blame was superfluous. The self-condemnation unnecessary. The peach tree must first accept that it is a peach tree to have prosperity, at least in terms of producing per its own kind.

What Does Humanity’s Natural Law Look Like?

If the nature of humanity is rational, personal, and relational then what must we produce? We must produce community. And what is a community? It is a cohesive group of imperfect people who together resemble a semblance of perfection.

Typical, in religious terminology, one may hear in our weakness He (referring to God) is made strong. I wouldn’t necessarily challenge that proposition,  however, I would argue it is also “in our weakness, We are made strong.” If we are to accept this truth, namely, that we are people-in-community than our ethics is fairly simple, straightforward, and fairly absolute.

The Ethics of a People-In-Community

At this point I may appear as a broken record, however, it’s worth repeating over and over. The main drive or motivating factor behind the ethics of a People-In-Community is “to act with the other in mind.”

Therefore, this is the standard, The Golden Rule, or whatever nomenclature you prefer. Let’s peek behind the curtains at the various religions take on this standard…


Bahá’í Faith

Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself.

(Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings)


Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.

(The Buddha, Udana-Varga 5.18)


In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

(Jesus, Matthew 7:12)


One word which sums up the basis of all good conduct….loving-kindness. Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.

(Confucius, Analects 15.23)


This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.

(Mahabharata 5:1517)


Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.

(The Prophet Muhammad, Hadith)


One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated.

(Mahavira, Sutrakritanga 1.11.33)


What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.

(Hillel, Talmud, Shabbath 31a)

Native Spirituality

We are as much alive as we keep the earth alive.

(Chief Dan George)


I am a stranger to no one; and no one is a stranger to me.

Indeed, I am a friend to all.

(Guru Granth Sahib, p.1299)


Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.

(Lao Tzu, T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien, 213-218)


We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

(Unitarian principle)


Do not do unto others whatever is injurious to yourself.

(Shayast-na-Shayast 13.29) (4)

Self-Examination Begins Where It Ends

Self-examination must be the gateway to freedom, which can only begin with the other in mind. Yet, how is this accomplished? In antiquity, the Ancient Greeks used to pilgrimage to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi to visit the Oracle and to hear from the gods, presumably to hear the truth. The truth, however, was cleverly concealed to remain out of touch for those who would only act with themselves in mind – those who deny their nature. Let me explain.

“It would appear that the supplicant to the oracle would undergo a four-stage process, typical of shamanic journeys.

Step 1: Journey to Delphi — Supplicants were motivated by some need to undertake the long and sometimes arduous journey to come to Delphi in order to consult the oracle. This journey was motivated by an awareness of the existence of the oracle, the growing motivation on the part of the individual or group to undertake the journey, and the gathering of information about the oracle as providing answers to important questions.

Step 2: Preparation of the Supplicant — Supplicants were interviewed in preparation of their presentation to the Oracle, by the priests in attendance. The genuine cases were sorted and the supplicant had to go through rituals involving the framing of their questions, the presentation of gifts to the Oracle and a procession along the Sacred Way carrying laurel leaves to visit the temple, symbolic of the journey they had made.

Step 3: Visit to the Oracle — The supplicant would then be led into the temple to visit the adyton, put his question to the Oracle, receive his answer and depart. The degree of preparation already undergone would mean that the supplicant was already in a very aroused and meditative state, similar to the shamanic journey…

Step 4: Return Home — Oracles were meant to give advice to shape future action, that was meant to be implemented by the supplicant, or by those that had sponsored the supplicant to visit the Oracle. The validity of the Oracular utterance was confirmed by the consequences of the application of the oracle to the lives of those people who sought Oracular guidance.” (5)

In my opinion, the reason for the journey was unambiguously found in the inscription chiseled above the entrance of the temple – “Know Thyself.” Oddly enough, it would appear as if the pilgrimage could have been avoided, for if the truth was desired, the only prerequisite to truth was to first gain knowledge of oneself, that is, one’s relational-rational nature. The sequence is the following:

Know thyself==>Know the truth==> Know freedom.

The Oracle represented, per my interpretation, humanities efforts to identify a truth which is independent of oneself – to sustain the lie. We are all seekers of truth, it’s an innate function. Nonetheless, schematically, we create stages and characters which direct us to the lie. The rituals point to the truth, but the desires point to the lie. Thus the inscription being truth cleverly concealed.

Nonetheless, just in case I lost you, all humanity must make the journey, for that is the only avenue to self-examination. The lie thus becomes the vehicle to the truth. Until the futility of living against one’s nature is realized, there is simply no other course.  As stated elsewhere,

“Almost none of us liked the self-searching, the leveling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings which the process requires for its successful consummation. But we saw that it really worked in others, and we had come to believe in the hopelessness and futility of life as we had been living it.”(6)

Perhaps Frank Buchman said it best. When asked why anyone would do the above, why anyone would possibly desire to make this journey, he responded with one word: calamity. (7)

Timmy G (2019)


Works Cited

  • Jordan Gee. Jordan spearheads the poetry section and contributes book reviews for
  • Keller, Timothy. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. NY, NY: Penguin Books, 2016.
  • Fontenrose, Joseph (1981), “Delphic Oracle: Its Responses and Operations”. (Uni of Calif. Press) [pulled from]
  • Alcoholics Anonymous. New York City, NY: Works Publishing / Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 2014.
  • Mcq, Joe. Carry This Message. Accent Press, 2014.